Series: Lonesome Way (Book 3)
When rodeo champ Jake Tanner returns to Lonesome Way, Carly McKinnon may be the only one not happy about it. The last thing she wants is Jake finding out about her daughter -- or rather, their daughter. Since their one-night fling years ago, Carly has been a great parent on her own. And the footloose Jake isn’t the sort of father she wants for little Emma.
But once Jake learns the truth, he wants to be a part of Emma’s life even if he’s not going to be a part of Carly’s. Even though the pair agrees to try to be friends, they soon find that being "just friends" isn't so easy. The red-hot attraction between them sets off sparks they thought they had left behind. Despite their rocky past and uncertain future, can Carly and Jake find their way into each other's arms -- and hearts?
Good book about second chances and coming home. Carly is a recent addition to Lonesome Way, moving there after the death of her foster mother to be near her foster mother's cousin. Carly also has a toddler girl, the product of a one night stand, and wants to raise her in the stability of a small town. What she hasn't told anyone is that little Emma is the daughter of hometown rodeo star Jake Tanner. She never told Jake either. Jake comes back to Lonesome Way once in awhile to visit his brothers and their families, before he heads back out onto the rodeo circuit. He firmly believes that settling down is something that isn't in his future at all.
When Carly hears that Jake is back in town, she panics. She doesn't want a man in Emma's life who will show up maybe once or twice a year, creating hope of a relationship and then letting her down. She'd rather have no father in Emma's life at all. When Jake discovers that Emma is his, he makes it clear to Carly that he will be involved in Emma's life on a regular basis. She isn't sure that she can trust what he says, based on his reputation and what he had told her himself the night they spent together.
Jake isn't happy that he's missed almost two years of Emma's life, but once he gets over the shock he understands why Carly did what she did. That doesn't mean that he's going to do what she wants and step back, he wants to be a daddy to his little girl. He knows better than to get involved with Carly. She's willing to be friends for Emma's sake, but she won't fall for a man who avoids commitment.
Both Carly and Jake have issues from their pasts that make them reluctant to risk a relationship with each other. Besides her issue with her father's abandonment, Carly had fallen in love with a man who turned out to be the worst kind of liar and cheat. This added to her distrust of men. When Jake was nineteen he had made a promise to a young woman to protect her from her abusive father, and when he wasn't able to, he blamed himself. He swore that he would never allow himself to be responsible for another person. So they promise each other that they will be friends only, with their focus on being the kind of parents that Emma needs. Of course, they aren't able to keep that promise.
I loved the slow growth of their relationship. Because they were determined to be friends, they kept a lid on their attraction and spent time getting to know each other. I loved the way that Jake was determined to earn Carly's trust. It was fun to see him interact with Emma and make sure that Carly knew she could depend on him. What he didn't expect was the way that he found himself wanting to cut back on his time away from them, and it freaked him out a lot. He tried pulling away and going back to his old ways before he realized that he had undergone some real changes and wasn't afraid any longer. Carly tried very hard to keep the walls up around her heart, afraid of what would happen if she let herself trust Jake and then he were to go back to his old ways. She slowly began to believe in him when he would put she and Emma ahead of his rodeo commitments. When she felt threatened by a break in, his immediate protectiveness went a long way toward making her believe in him. The mystery of who was behind the break in and who was following her babysitter was not what I first suspected, so it made an interesting twist to the story. It also gave Jake one more opportunity to shine in Carly's eyes. I loved how Jake was finally able to show and convince Carly how he felt, and that she was ready to believe.
There was also a nice secondary romance between Carly's babysitter and a young man who was trying to come back from some mistakes he had made. Madison and Brady had been friends as kids until she did something that wrecked their friendship. But she was one of the few people in town that believed in him, and was willing to give him the second chance he wanted. I loved seeing how he was determined to watch out for her too. There were some very sweet scenes between the two of them as they renewed their friendship and more.
I also enjoyed the support that both Jake and Carly received from his brothers and their wives. His brothers didn't have any trouble dispensing advice, whether he wanted it or not. And I loved how none of them held any anger against Carly for keeping Emma a secret. I especially loved the girls' night with the ice cream, cake and wine. The dog was pretty darn adorable, too. I'm looking forward to reading the next book in the series.